As spring practice begins Saturday, the Indiana quarterback room can be characterized by its uncertainty.
For the second consecutive offseason, IU head coach Tom Allen will oversee a quarterback competition. For the second consecutive offseason, there will be three major players.
“It’s a highly competitive room right now,” Allen said. “Based on what happens, we expect Michael (Penix) to be back to 100 percent and Peyton (Ramsey) to stay 100 percent, and what happens with Jack (Tuttle), for him to be ready to go for the fall, we’ll see.”
Though of those three, only incumbent Peyton Ramsey is both healthy and eligible for now.
While listed on the spring roster, the eligibility of Utah transfer Jack Tuttle is still a question mark looming over the quarterback room. On Thursday at his press conference, Allen had no update on the status of Tuttle’s NCAA waiver to allow him to avoid the required year a player must sit out following a transfer. There is optimism, though, due to the waiver approval of Georgia transfer and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields — who was in Tuttle’s identical situation.
Tuttle will practice during the spring, getting a chance to learn the offensive scheme being installed by new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer.
Meanwhile, Michael Penix Jr., has been in the weight room throughout the winter, continuing to rehab from the torn ACL he suffered against Penn State during the 2018 season. Both Allen and Director of Athletic Performance David Ballou said that they have been impressed with the work the Penix has done in the weight room, and how he has simultaneously grown into a more vocal leader.
Penix will not be practicing in full during the spring. The freshman will still get the chance to throw during the spring, but not with the full team. Penix talked about taking mental reps in the offense in order to keep pace with Tuttle and Ramsey.
“I just want to get to know the offense the best I can,” Penix said. “Take a lot of mental reps. Even though I’m not in, at least try to take mental reps to make sure that I know what’s going on so that whenever I’m back I know everything.”
Suddenly for the first time, Ramsey is now the oldest member of his quarterback room.
Whereas he was the young guy learning from older players like Zander Diamont, Richard Lagow, and Brandon Dawkins in the past, Ramsey is now the player that coaches and players expect leadership from. Like Penix, Ramsey is a player that Allen initially considered to be quiet, but has made a jump as a vocal leader.
“I just think that to have three that we believe that can lead us on game day and let the competition bring out the best in each one of them,” Allen said. “As they encourage each other, yeah, they are competing for a position, but they are also teammates, and I want to see how they handle that because I want guys that love Indiana Football and they want Indiana Football to be very successful, and I get it.”
Without getting a full look at Penix, and without knowing the eligibility status of Tuttle, uncertainty grows among the IU quarterback competition. Ramsey is the only quarterback that Allen knows exactly what he has, and knows will be available in the fall.
Except for the second consecutive year, Indiana has went out of its way to find competitors for Ramsey. The Hoosiers worked late to secure the commitment of Penix in its 2018 class, and even then, brought in an experienced power-conference quarterback in Dawkins. Ramsey won the competition, against some odds, but was still substituted in games until Penix’s season-ending injury.
Ramsey is a gamer, though. He continues to welcome the competition and echoes the words of his coaching staff: success is bred from competition — the more, the better. The Hoosiers have also recently added multiple walk-on quarterbacks.
“We needed it for sure,” Ramsey said. “If you look at last year, me being the only healthy scholarship quarterback on our roster for the last couple weeks of the year, you need scholarship quarterbacks on the roster to be able to compete in case something like that does happen. There’s no bad feelings, no bad blood at all that we brought in a new guy because it was much needed.”
Tuttle will be able to practice with the team despite the unknown surrounding his waiver request. He will get the chance to battle with Peyton Ramsey directly, with Penix in the picture, but not to the same extent, during the spring as he continues to get back to full strength. All three quarterbacks bring various strengths, but all thing bring their questions. Penix is known for his arm strength, but can he return to form after a torn ACL? Ramsey his leadership and experience, but can he make the necessary throws to win Big Ten games? Tuttle could very well be the most accurate, but will he be eligible and experienced enough?
An answer to the status of Tuttle should come soon. An answer to the quarterback competition certainly will not. Indiana opens with Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium.